This weekend’s races should put the finishing touches on the Kentucky Derby field


The Kentucky Derby field, barring unforeseen injuries, will be set early Saturday night after the running of the final two prep races.

Unlike last year’s Kentucky Derby, which featured an amalgam of unspectacular horses, this year is more like the 1996 NBA draft. Not that we would ever know, because horse racing usually retires its stars rather than running them.

The Arkansas Derby is Saturday’s marquee event, with Magnum Moon, who is undefeated in three starts. He, along with likely Kentucky Derby favorite Justify, was unraced as a 2-year-old. No horse who hasn’t run as a 2-year-old has won the Kentucky Derby since 1882.


Magnum Moon and Quip, winner of the Tampa Bay Derby, have already qualified for Louisville. Solomini, from the Bob Baffert barn, is right on the cut line for the Derby and can qualify with as little as a fourth-place finish in the nine-horse field at Oaklawn. The race is worth 100-40-20-10 qualifying points for first through fourth.

But over at Keeneland is a lesser points race, the Lexington, worth only 20-8-4-2, that is more about the Kentucky Derby dream, which every owner and trainer seeks.

Keith Desormeaux, despite a small operation of 30 horses, knows what Triple Crown success is all about, having finished second in the Kentucky Derby and winning the Preakness two years ago with Exaggerator. He’s just below the cut line with My Boy Jack, who is the 5-2 morning-line favorite. A win, or even a second, gets him in the Kentucky Derby.

And there is Adam Kitchingman, who has never had a horse in the Kentucky Derby, and probably won’t even if his colt Greyvitos wins on Saturday. He would need a few horses with more points to drop out if he wins and has 30 qualifying points. Greyvitos was a survivor of the San Luis Rey Downs fire and was a contender until bone chips were discovered in his knee.

“It’s a big dream right now,” Kitchingman said of the Kentucky Derby. “I could have opted to run in Arkansas and go for more points. I just didn’t feel it was in the horse’s best interest, for what he’s gone through. And if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. But if it does, it does.”

Even before the colt went into training, he had to have colic surgery. In his first race, on the grass, he injured one of his back legs. He came back, and after a strong sprint on the dirt was entered in the Bob Hope Stakes at Del Mar, which he won. Then came the fire, in which 46 horses perished.

He was moved to temporary housing at Del Mar and was shipped to Remington Park, where he won the Springboard Mile and 10 Derby qualifying points. When he came back to Southern California, the bone chips were discovered. That was his last race.

“I knew it was going to be tough if we were going to make the Derby, and I knew that I had to give him the most possible time and the easiest prep race possible,” Kitchingman said. “And it just happened to be the Lexington that offered the most time.”

Making this year’s Derby is slightly more difficult, in that only 19 spots are available for the 20-horse field. When Gronkowski won the Burradon Stakes at Newcastle, England, he earned an automatic spot in the Derby.

All of which is why My Boy Jack, 20th in the point standings with more points awarded on Saturday, needed to run in the Lexington.

The plan was for My Boy Jack to earn enough points in the Louisiana Derby to qualify for Louisville, but the colt finished third, after making a huge move and then flattening out in the stretch.

In Desormeaux’s trademark candor, he blamed his brother, Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux.

“It was a phenomenal move and that’s where the problem lies, in my opinion,” Keith Desormeaux said. “He needed to move more gradually. He went from zero to 60 in one-eighth [of a mile] and he didn’t need to do that. I think he could have remained steady and picked up the horses as he needed in the second-longest tretch in the country.

“Kent seemed to have forgotten that fact and that’s what cost us the race. But Kent has given me more genius rides than questionable rides, so we know those things happen.”

The trainer has high expectations for his colt on Saturday.

“These are serious, serious horses this year, even more than in years past,” Desormeaux said. “I think the talent this year is off the charts. If he can’t win in Lexington, and do so decisively, then he has no business in the Kentucky Derby.”

Jockey switches

Javier Castellano, after riding Bolt d’Oro in the San Felipe and Santa Anita Derby, is bailing on trainer Mick Ruis. He has elected to ride Audible, the Florida Derby winner, for Todd Pletcher. Castellano told the Daily Racing Form that his long-term relationship with Pletcher was the deciding factor. We wonder, if Bolt d’Oro had won the Santa Anita Derby would he feel the same way? …. John Velazquez, who rode Audible in the Florida Derby, will ride Vino Rosso, winner of the Wood Memorial by three lengths in Louisville …. Hall of Famer and Triple Crown winner Victor Espinoza picks up the mount on Bolt d’Oro.